Food & Drink

Sweet & Spicy: Tapas, cheesecake and baked goat cheese in a time of social distancing

Studded with olives, manchego cheese and chorizo, this tapas quick bread celebrates the flavors of Spain.
Studded with olives, manchego cheese and chorizo, this tapas quick bread celebrates the flavors of Spain.
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As I write this on a Sunday afternoon, we are in the first weekend of “social distancing.” Last night was to have been a tapas party that had been in the works for several weeks, probably months if I stop to count.

It’s an every-other-month-or-so themed dinner that rotates with another couple, and I’d nicknamed this one “Spanish Eyes” and selected a few dishes to make, old and new.

And then the virus arrived. A recent business trip, with lots of handshaking, long work hours and by Friday a party seemed more like “Love in the Time of Cholera.” So we rescheduled dinner.

For this column, considering a fair amount of ingredients were packed into the refrigerator, I chose to prepare and share those recipes here. Tapas are nothing more than little bites, perfect for enjoying with friends. (There’s also a rather amazing cheesecake from the Basque region.)

COVID-19 far and away has become the most popular topic of conversation and — I would imagine — internal thought. We imagine that safety abides in an intricacy of connections, yet those globally intricate connections have exposed just how delicate and vulnerable all of us really are.

The slightest alteration can affect the balance. I worry hunger and homelessness will increase from an economic slowdown. I think of the small family-owned shops and restaurants I visit, whose financial margins are always tight. I hope to continue supporting them as we weather this virus.

I am unsettled by how I take for granted the ease of purchasing the most basic things at the store. I especially take for granted the freedom and peace to move about as I please. As I write, Italy and Spain are virtually locked down and our own country’s borders are closing. I wonder if I were put in the same situation, would I have the heart to sing as those Italians have been?

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In the meantime, let’s wash our hands, change the towels more often and use this time of social distancing to reflect and enjoy a slower pace with loved ones.

Recipes

Basque Burnt Cheesecake

It won’t win any awards for beauty, but this rustic cheesecake has been called “cloudcake” because its texture is light, almost bordering on souffle. This recipe is based on a cheesecake served at La Vina in San Sebastian, Spain. To experience the cheesecake’s lightness of being, you must eat it at room temperature or even slightly warm, right after baking. Once refrigerated, the cloudlike texture will solidify, but it’s still quite delicious. Unlike most cheesecake recipes, this one doesn’t require a water bath — hooray.

4 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature

1 1/2 cups sugar

6 large eggs

2 cups heavy cream

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

Butter for the pan

Equipment needed

1 10-inch springform pan

Parchment paper

Place rack in the middle of oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Butter pan, then place two sheets of parchment paper, overlapping them to making sure paper comes at least 2 inches above top of pan on all sides. You’ll need to fold and crease the parchment to fit the pan, but remember this is a rustic dessert, not an origami project. The edges won’t be smooth and uniform. Set the pan on a rimmed baking sheet.

Place cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, beat on medium-low speed. Scrape down sides of bowl occasionally. Beat until very smooth, with no lumps, and sugar has dissolved, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Increase speed to medium. Add eggs one at a time, beating each egg 15 seconds before adding the next. Continue to scrape down sides of bowl. Reduce mixer speed to medium-low. Add cream, salt, and vanilla, beating carefully until combined, about 30 seconds. The bowl will be quite full at this point.

Turn off the mixer and sift flour over the surface of the batter. Turn the mixer to low and beat about 15 seconds more. Scrape the bowl once more and beat until the batter is smooth, about 15 seconds.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until deeply golden brown on top and jiggly in the center, about 65 minutes. If your cake isn’t very browned at this point (ovens vary), move pan to a lower rack and set the oven to broil. Let it broil 1 to 2 minutes, watching very carefully not to let it burn. Remove cheesecake from oven.

Let cool slightly. The cheesecake will fall as it cools. Release the pan and remove. Carefully slide cake and parchment to a large plate. Let cool. Carefully peel away parchment from sides of cheesecake. Slice into wedges and serve at room temperature or barely warm. Refrigerate any leftovers.

Source: Adapted from Bon Appetit

Goat Cheese Appetizer

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I first had this dish at a tapas place 2o years ago. I’ve been making it ever since, and every time I serve it, someone wants the recipe. There really is no recipe. The proportions are easily scaled up for additional servings.

1 5-ounce log of soft, plain goat cheese

14-16 ounces tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes or your favorite marinara sauce

Bread or crackers for serving

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

Fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Pour tomatoes or tomato sauce into a ceramic or cast-iron baking dish. Arrange log of goat cheese in the middle of the tomatoes. As an alternative, slice the log into small medallions. Bake until tomatoes are bubbling.

Remove from oven and drizzle olive oil and garnish with chopped fresh parsley. Serve with sliced baguette or bread of your choice.

Manchego Olive Bread

With manchego cheese, pimento-stuffed olives and chorizo, this quick bread has all the flavors of Spain. If you don’t want to purchase yet one more specialty ingredient like chorizo, see the note for how I hacked a substitute.

Oil or butter for the pan

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 large eggs

1/3 cup olive oil

1/3 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt

4 ounces Spanish manchego cheese, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

1 teaspoon hot Spanish paprika

20 pimento-stuffed green olives

3 ounces Spanish or vegetarian chorizo, cut into ¼-inch cubes. Note: Instead of chorizo, I used uncured turkey bacon, which I diced then sautéed with 2 teaspoons smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon garlic powder and a good pinch of cayenne until the moisture was removed. Let cool then add with other ingredients to the bread batter.

Equipment needed:

1 rectangular bread pan

Parchment paper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Oil the pan and place a sheet of parchment to cover bottom and sides. Oil the parchment. Set aside.

Mix flour, salt and baking powder in a large bowl. Add the olives, Manchego and chorizo. Toss to coat all ingredients are coated with flour.

In a separate bowl, beat eggs, olive oil and buttermilk or yogurt. Add to the flour mixture and stir until everything is well blended.

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Scrape this into the prepared pan and bake anywhere from 25 to 35 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown on top.

Remove from oven and let cool. Turn out of the pan and serve at room temperature. Leftovers are good toasted with butter or a slice of cheese.

Source: Adapted from Patricia Wells

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